Saturday, December 13, 2008

Valpy on Michael Ignatieff

There is a long biographical article on Michael Ignatieff in the Globe by Michael Valpy. The article is rather gossipy and concentrates quite a bit on Ignatieff's personal and family life rather than his ideas but it covers most of his life. There is not much detail about any of his ideas and his book Empire Lite is not even mentioned. In his youth Ignatieff was further to the left even socialist but he turned to the right fairly quickly. Here is a section concerning his support for the Iraq war. The article does not mention what those ideas are that he wants to bring to fruition in Canada. As I see them they consist of building democracies and furthering human rights globally through US might. In effect this is an ideological justification of US hegemony and imperialism. The same thread is found as one line of justification by the neo-cons from whom he distances himself. However Ignatieff has much in common with the neo-cons including a disdain at times for the UN when it fails to act as he wishes. His father certainly must be turning over in his grave as he was a great supporter of the UN.

And then in early 2003, he did something that not only shocked his colleagues but brought down on his head the condemnation of the entire U.S. left. In a Sunday magazine essay in The New York Times, he declared his support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
It was 1984 all over again: the British miners strike, the New Statesman article, the outrage of the History Workshop and the North London left — this time, writ large on a global stage.
"He could have fallen on his face," says Prof. Power, who vehemently disagreed with him.
Instead, he eloquently defended himself, writing in The Guardian, for example: "Now that combat has commenced, those, like me, who support the war need to be honest enough to address some painful questions. Who wants to live in a world where there are no stable rules for the use of force by states? Not me. Who wants to live in a world ruled by the military power of the strong? Not me. How will we oblige American military hegemony to pay 'decent respect to the opinions of mankind'? I don't know.
"To support the war entails a commitment to rebuild that order on new foundations. To support the war entails other discomforts as well. It means remaining distinct from the company you keep, supporting a swift and decisive victory, while maintaining your distance from the hawks, the triumphalists, the bellowing commentators who mistake machismo for maturity."
His support of the Iraq invasion would have appalled his father, but his arguments won him at least grudging respect from many who disagreed with him.
"I'm in the middle of the largest moral and political gamble of my adult life," he told The Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders the following year, as he held fast to his support for the invasion even though he had become critical of how President George W. Bush was handling it. "Everything I've said and believed since I was 18 is on the line over this war, and I could be very seriously wrong."
Then, in 2005, he again did something shocking — he suddenly resigned from the Carr to return to Canada .
What had happened? This ending didn't fit the pattern. There were no visible Aztecs around, his career at the Carr seemed anything but stalled, his status as a public intellectual in the United States had become nothing short of august.
Mr. Ignatieff's explanation, sitting in his MP's office, is that he wanted a new challenge, something tough. "You say, 'Let's do something really hard.' I don't want to be someone sitting in my rocking chair at the end saying, 'Well, I passed.' And that's been true all my life. My mum used to say life isn't for sissies."
He has said on other occasions that he felt in his soul it was time to come home, that he had always intended to enter public life one day. And there were those four words in his UCC yearbook.
Over lunch in London's Richoux Restaurant Gwyn Prins, the global security expert, hints that Mr. Ignatieff had a quite deliberate plan in mind: He wants to bring his ideas to where the action is.
Musing on how a Canadian prime minister could have great influence on a "re-animated debate" over global human rights, Prof. Prins says: "You've got admire a guy who follows his star."

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